Connected \\ September 20, 2019

His solo vision for shoes

One might be surprised to find out that PEM, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and a host of other Hollywood elite share a common affinity: shoe designer, Thom Solo. Those who attended PEM’s 2018 Gala got to spend time one-on-one with Thom’s creations, including a pair of death-defying 10-inch heels commissioned and worn by Lady Gala.


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Photo by Michael Blanchard

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Peabody Essex Museum, Photography by Bob Packert.


Those shoes, and a selection of others, will soon make their way into PEM’s permanent collection. At more than 4,000 pairs, PEM’s shoe collection is one of the largest and most important in the United States. The collection includes everything from a pair of early running shoes to 20th century jeweled heels. We have a group of shoes that were displayed at the first World’s Fairs in the U.S. and demonstrated the exceptional designs, materials and construction techniques used by companies working in Lynn and Haverhill, Massachusetts and other U.S. manufacturers at the time.

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In a true “pinch me, am I dreaming?” moment, I got to wear a pair of Thom’s iconic Fish-hook heels at the gala. No one believes me (unless they too have worn them) but these were the most extraordinary and comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. And trust me, I have done the, well, footwork to stand behind that statement (sorry, I had to).

Thom’s approach to creating shoes combines mythology, identity and visual storytelling. Each collection is centered around a powerful female figure who inspires the collection’s origin story and guiding sensibility. When Thom’s creations are worn by female performers and artists, the power of the muse is amplified even further.

His most recent vision, the Astral Collection, depicts “the lineage of Salem with a modern day take on feminism merged with fashion.” Inspired by his time spent at the museum and in the surrounding Salem community, Thom chose PEM’s historic house collection as a backdrop to tell the Astral Collection’s story.

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Photo courtesy of Thom Solo
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Photo courtesy of Thom Solo


On a dreary May day, Thom and his 14-person creative team brought the Astral Collection to life. With PEM’s iconic Gardner-Pingree house and Plummer Hall as the settings, three models transformed 15 pairs of shoes into the story of a powerful and commanding woman. Zipping from one space to the next to avoid interrupting regularly scheduled programming, a team captured the images and video to tell the tale of the Astral woman.

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Photo courtesy of Thom Solo


As PEM’s Manager of Historic Structures and Landscapes, Steven Mallory welcomes this new way of highlighting the museum’s campus. “Today, as PEM re-vamps and expands our use of our premier historic buildings, we are embarking on an adventure to present them in new and even provocative ways. Like the architect-artist-client relationship that began two centuries ago, we are excited to coordinate with living artists and designers to explore the relationship between historic and modern design. Look forward in future episodes as we seek to see old things in new ways.”

Thom Solo considers the opportunity to collaborate with PEM a true thrill.


PEM‘s history and its role in pushing boundaries and advancing the conversation about culture, fashion and art is truly inspiring,” he says. “It is a unique privilege to be a part of this family. I’m truly honored any time I am able to be a part of this museum’s cultural movement.


A new PEM is launching this September — a new wing, new installations and a whole new museum experience. PEM Members get to see it all first. Join or renew on our Membership page to ensure you don't miss out! Follow along and share in the excitement using #newPEM.

For more behind-the-scenes stories from PEM, sign up for What's On, our monthly e-newsletter, here.

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